Disruptive Technologies Climate Change and Shipping

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International legal aspects of Arctic shipping

International legal aspects of Arctic shipping

Youri van Logchem

11.1 Introduction

Climate change is having a pronounced impact in the Arctic region. Average temperatures in winter are dropping, and the yearly seasonal variations in ice cover are increasing, which will result in less ice coverage.2 Although there is no universally accepted definition of “the Arctic”, its spatial scope is most often defined as the area around the North Pole.3 At the heart of the Artic is the Arctic Ocean. Its warming has caused the ice cover to shrink, whereby waters that have historically been difficult to penetrate are now becoming more easily accessible.4 The increased accessibility of the Arctic waters has functioned as a lure for conducting economic activities, including utilising these waters for (international) shipping purposes. As navigational uses rise, the historically grown perception of international shipping in the Arctic being an untenable prospect is increasingly challenged.5 And if predictions come to fruition that the ice cover will continue to recede, this perception will incrementally only lose its force further, as the navigability of Arctic waters increases.6 The driving factor behind these fundamental changes in the Arctic region is climatic change. In addition to its many negative consequences, new opportunities are also created by climate change, including that it facilitates the creation of potentially new international shipping routes that were previously inaccessible, or that it makes those already in existence better accessible. At the same time, climate change creates new threats, or exacerbates already existing ones in the Arctic context, including drifting hard multi-year ice.

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